What South College School of Pharmacy faculty member Maha Abdalla, PharmD, PhD, RPh, enjoys most about pharmacy is that the field is constantly changing. “There’s always something new to learn that impacts patient care either directly or indirectly,” she says. “It also opens the door to so many opportunities to give back to the profession.”
In her research, Dr. Abdalla focuses on cardiopulmonary conditions, specifically, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and heart failure, utilizing her Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree and her PhD in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics.
“For pulmonary fibrosis, it is a debilitating condition, where patients often don’t get an accurate diagnosis until their condition has progressed. By that point, they’ve been misdiagnosed, had several hospital admissions, seen several doctors, developed comorbidities, and have been on various medications. All around, their quality of life is poor,” she explains. “As pharmacist-researchers, we want to identify new therapeutic targets and identify strategies to intervene earlier to give the best treatment options for each patient in a way that is individualized and not one-size-fits-all.”
In addition to teaching and doing research at South College, Dr. Abdalla serves as a research and career mentor for students in the Mentor-Mentee program, Independent Research, and in the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacy Research Concentration program. As is true across our PharmD program, she has an open door policy and is committed to helping her students succeed.
“If someone is struggling – and that can mean academically or in life, whatever struggle that might be – they have a family and a support system at South College,” she says. “My goal as a mentor is to help them develop into competent pharmacists, distinguished leaders, and life-long learners. In my meetings with students, we talk about their goals and what they are passionate about. We come up with a game plan for the next 2 to 3 years to help them achieve their short- and long-term goals.”
In all her interactions with students, Dr. Abdalla is committed to showing students what being a pharmacist is all about. “I want students to realize that it’s important to be passionate and committed to improving patient care. It’s important to do comprehensive patient evaluations, so that you’re not tunnel-vision focused on one problem and missing a bigger problem,” she says. “Finally, it’s important to be compassionate and tailor your approach with every patient. Those things will make you a great pharmacist and leader.”
She emphasizes to students that pharmacists have a much larger responsibility than simply providing a medication. “You play a central role in that patient’s wellbeing,” she states. “You have to understand how medications work, the pathogenesis of conditions, different drug interactions, and why certain patients may experience certain side effects. You need to factor in patient adherence and cost. Those are just some of the things you need to think about to help you appropriately manage that patient from an evidence-based perspective.”
To drive these points home, she relies on using real cases in her courses for P1 and P2 students. “I approach teaching as if I’m working with colleagues,” she explains. “For me teaching is not lecturing. It is engaging my students in lively discussions that challenge their clinical-reasoning skills from different angles. We look at literature, guidelines, and clinical and pre-clinical trials so that we can make an evidence-based recommendation tailored to that patient.” This experience of continual research and discussion also teaches students to be lifelong learners who can grow and adapt along with the changing pharmacy and healthcare fields.
Additionally, Dr. Abdalla is an advisor for the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) South College chapter, which, among other initiatives, is involved in providing pharmaceutical services to underserved and uninsured patients in the community. “Through SNPhA and other student organizations, we provide students with opportunities to be leaders at South College and make an impact in the community and the profession,” she says. “Everyone here at South College is working to ensure that our students are going to be the best that they can be when they graduate and start their career.”